Today saw the unveiling of this year's FIFA Ballon d'Or nominees with the usual suspects in the fray and expected to dominate the voting. The list includes 23 players that will eventually be narrowed down to just 3, and while Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are widely expected to be among them, the third place spot may be up for grabs.
While certain nominees are undoubtedly worthy of their inclusion, some are far more contentious, with a number of high-profile names left out. Due to this, WhoScored.com investigates the best-rated players to have been omitted from the shortlist, as well as those who may be able to count themselves a little lucky to have been mentioned.
We also look into the top 5 rated players from WhoScored, starting from the beginning of this year, to have been nominated, to discover whether the race is indeed the formality that many suggest.
Six of the Best, but not According to FIFA
Much has been made of Barca's domination of the shortlist, with 8 players represented, while just one Englishman, two Frenchmen and no Italians have been included in the initial 23-strong candidature. A look at WhoScored.com's ratings from the start of the calendar year shows that a number of Premier League contenders have been overlooked, as well as an outstanding Bayern duo and that allusive Italian contingent.
Of a long list of potential stars who missed out this time around, Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery is the best rated according to WhoScored. In 21 appearances for his club in the league since the turn of the year, Ribery has 9 goals to his name as well as an exceptional tally of 14 assists from the wing, proving he is well worthy of a rating of 8.05.
Many were surprised not to see Robin van Persie's name not included, and a look at the stats prove that the Dutchman is mightily unlucky not to have made the grade. The Arsenal forward has made 24 appearances in the league in 2011 since recovering from injury, amazingly netting more than a goal a game having notched 26 goals from a hefty 5.21 shots per game to earn a rating of 7.94.
Veteran frontman Antonio Di Natale has seemingly got better with age, scoring 24 times in 26 league appearances at the grand old age of 34. Many felt that the departure of some of his high-profile Udinese teammates from last term, most notably Alexis Sanchez, would be of detriment to the experienced Italian, though he shows no signs of slowing down having struck 7 in 8 this season already, earning a WhoScored rating of 7.87 since the start of the year.
Another man with a quite remarkable record in front of goal to have been overlooked is Bayern's Mario Gomez. In 23 league appearances this year the German, like van Persie, has netted more than a goal a game having found the net on 24 occasions, all coming from just 3.3 shots per game in comparison. With just 4 assists to his name in that time, Gomez is far more of a goal poacher, but could easily have made the shortlist having amassed a rating of 7.87.
Many have questioned the longevity of Frank Lampard of late, but the stats don't lie and the Englishman may feel aggrieved not to have joined fellow countryman Wayne Rooney in the nominees. Since recovering from a groin injury the 33-year-old has made 24 appearances in 2011, scoring 13 goals from midfield and picking up 6 assists, which is not many when considering he has scored a hugely impressive figure of 2.67 when it comes to key passes per game.
Another Premier League star who is absent is Manchester City's David Silva, despite claims from many that he is now the best player in the world's most followed league. Having turned out 25 times in the league for the big-spenders since the beginning of January, Silva has laid on 10 assists but somewhat surprisingly struck just 6 times in that span. He has created 2.64 chances per game for teammates and thoroughly deserved a WhoScored rating of 7.66.
Fortune Favours the Barca Boys
Of the 5 lowest rated players to have been shortlisted for football's top individual gong, 3 ply their trade with European champions Barcelona. However, perhaps the most fortunate to be included is former Atletico forward, now with Inter, Diego Forlan. The Uruguayan's hand in helping his country secure the Copa America will certainly have attributed to his inclusion, but based on his club stats from the start of the year, he may count himself a little lucky.
In playing in both Spain and Italy, Forlan has accumulated 21 league appearances in 2011, scoring just 3 goals and providing a further 3 assists only. His meagre tally in front of goal has come despite taking 60 shots since the turn of the year, meaning he has needed 20 chances to score at club level, picking up a rating of just 6.48.
Iker Casillas is undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers of a generation and the Real Madrid captain may well be most deserving of our 5 to have been shortlisted. In 2011 Casillas has amassed 26 appearances and picked up an average rating of 6.78 having made 2.77 saves per game and kept 11 clean sheets in the process.
Barcelona front man David Villa has very much stood in the shadow of a number of his teammates since his move to Camp Nou, despite being a regular in the side with 25 appearances since the start of 2011. He has scored a very respectable 10 goals but added just 1 assist from a meagre 0.88 key passes per game.
Villa's teammate Gerard Pique is certainly one of the world's very best defenders, leading one to beg the question as to why Manchester United let him slip through their grasp. Despite being assured and more than capable in possession for Barcelona, Pique has only turned out 18 times in the league in 2011, with just 1 start so far this season, though his efforts have earned him a decent if unspectacular rating of 6.94.
It is quite remarkable that France international Eric Abidal has been able to make 23 league appearances in the calendar year, a full 5 more than Pique despite being diagnosed with a liver tumour in March. Successful surgery meant that the 32-year-old defender only missed 2 months of the season and was able to make an emotional appearance in his side's victorious Champions League final against Manchester United in May. His displays have been solid, averaging 6.98 in WhoScored ratings but it is his spirit in the face of adversity that is hugely commendable.
And the Winner is... Do We Already Know?
Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d'Or for two years running and having shown no signs of fatigue since, is undoubtedly the hot favourite to retain the illustrious prize. The Argentinean may well have the award wrapped up for much of his career if he keeps up his magical form, and whose to suggest that he won't.
The 24-year-old has scored 24 goals in 25 games in the league in 2011, weighing in with an outstanding 13 assists to boot and picking up an average rating of 8.62, which is the best in WhoScored rankings. However, is the race the formality that many will have you believe?
Cristiano Ronaldo fans would certainly beg to differ after the Real Madrid maverick smashed record last season and has continued his fine form into this. An amazing tally of 31 goals in just 26 league appearances from the Portugal international will certainly put him right up there with Messi as the front runners, having also laid on 10 assists. The former United man's willingness to have a go from any distance has seen him attempt a vast 7.27 shots per game this year as he looks to oust his Argentinean counterpart at the top.
The race for third is arguably the most intriguing, with Xavi pipping a long-list of candidates according to WhoScored despite only scoring 4 goals and registering 4 assists in 23 league games. His 94% pass accuracy is otherworldly and sets him apart from a generation; with the midfield maestro having been unlucky not to have laid on more goals having created 2.39 chances a match.
Samuel Eto'o is certainly a hot topic in football having taken the decision to take the cash at Anzhi in Russia's Premier League. In 19 appearances for former club Inter in 2011, the Cameroonian forward scored 12 goals and picked up 7 assists, while another of this summer's high-profile movers ranks 5th of those to have been shortlisted.
Cesc Fabregas' drawn out transfer to Barcelona has seen him return to his boyhood club and flourish, netting 4 goals early on in his Catalan career. He has 9 assists to his name from 17 appearances between Arsenal and Barca and leads the way for our top 5 in terms of key passes per game with 7.78 but with Messi and Ronaldo in magnificent form, who would bet against one or the other?